Clear Comm Consulting

All about memory … and, um … what was I saying again?

Oct 25, 2011

At a certain age the memory jokes start coming — and sometimes it’s not all that funny. The mysteries surrounding dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are very serious matters. But today, I’m actually looking at a different side of the memory equation: What does your audience remember, and how do you make sure they remember what you WANT them to remember? (I may have written about this before but I can’t recall … sorry, I couldn’t pass that one up.)

When you stand up to speak or have any interaction with the news media, how much does your message stick? You might be hoping they remember everything you say, but in your heart-of-hearts you know that’s not true. So what is your guess? What percentage of what you say do they take with them?

There is extensive research on audience memory and we’ll get to the heart of that in just a minute, but first I want to emphasize this thought process for every time you speak. Who is the audience? How well informed are they? How interested are they in what you have to say? And finally, what is the critical material they need to know from your message? If you ask those simple, important questions you are much more likely to set yourself up for success.

Okay, let’s look at the research. While we can get buried in the numbers, the most important number in my view is 10 percent. The research shows the audience will retain just 10 percent of what you’ve said after a week’s time. (And why do I have a feeling that number will shrink further in our caffeine-driven world?)

You can quibble with the numbers but I think we can agree the audience is often bombarded with messages and distractions for much of their day, so even if you can get them in a quiet moment, the rest of the world will soon intrude once again. So what can you do? Here are some quick suggestions:

Stay Focused: Two, maybe three points should be all you have on your list — and if it’s a media message, just one point will be plenty. Do you know more than that? Sure you do, but this is not a college classroom. You are there, in most circumstances, to provide key information and therefore zero in on it and put aside the details — or offer them in follow-up written material that the audience can take time to digest.

Repetition is Your Friend: Let me repeat, repetition is your friend. (Sorry, couldn’t resist once again …) By repeating an important point you are providing a big red arrow for the audience. But don’t just say it over and over; think of imaginative ways to get that repeated message to them if you can.

Use All the Tools: Don’t assume just your spoken word will do it all. What other ways can you get them to remember? Is there a prop you can hold to bring the message home? Is there a catch phrase you can introduce to help them connect? What pop culture reference can you make? If it’s important, it’s worth the effort.

And as your final audience memory point, do you recall what percentage of your message will be remembered after a week’s time? Here’s a hint — it is a small but very important number. Don’t forget it.

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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